MESA, Ariz. -- Scott Baker continued to build strength 11 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, throwing two innings in a simulated game Thursday.
Baker threw 31 pitches, and according to manager Dale Sveum the right-hander's fastball topped out at 89 miles per hour in his second inning of work. That's two miles per hour below his career average fastball velocity of 91 miles per hour (according to FanGraphs), which Sveum found encouraging.
"Felt good, finished good," Sveum said. "It all went really well, especially that second inning he cranked it up and still was probably 80-85 percent and still got to 89."
The next test will be how Baker responds to airing out those six to 10 fastballs he threw in the second inning of Thursday's simulated game.
"He hasn't really let it go like that, it's been a long time since he's done that," Sveum said. "Tomorrow's a wait-and-see to find out how he reacted to that."
If Baker doesn't have any issues following Thursday's simulated game, he's on track to make a start against minor-leaguers next week, after which he'd follow with his Cactus League debut. At the earliest, Baker may join the Cubs' starting rotation in mid-April.
Villanueva beat by Konerko, but happy with outing
Carlos Villanueva gave up two runs on six hits over four innings in the Cubs' 8-3 loss to the White Sox Thursday at HoHoKam Stadium, but overall had a positive outlook on his fourth Cactus League start.
"I'm not too concerned," he said. "I'm more satisfied with my sequences today. For the first time I used my off speed when I had guys on base, in scoring position a little bit. So it made me work a little bit and handle those situations for the season. I think we're progressing real well."
Two of those hits came on pitches Villanueva thought were good to White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko. One of them went for a single, the other carried over the left field fence for a home run.
"What can I say, I thought that first hit he got was a good pitch away and then the homer he hit, I was very surprised it went out, but I threw the ball exactly where I wanted to throw it up and in at his hands," Villanueva explained. "That's Konerko. If somebody's going to do it, it's him.
"Hopefully it's blowing in at Wrigley, it's a pop-up to left."
Marmol's outing no cause for concern
Carlos Marmol walked two and allowed an unearned run in 2/3 of an inning, with Sveum pulling the reliever after 25 pitches. The reason behind removing Marmol wasn't performance-related, though -- he just hit his limit for the day.
"He wasn't awful by no means," Sveum said. "He just got the pitch count up."
Sveum said Thursday morning that "everything's fine" regarding Starlin Castro's hamstring, and the shortstop is expected to return to the Cubs' lineup either Monday or Wednesday. The Cubs have Tuesday off.
In batting practice prior to Thursday's game, Castro certainly looked healthy, driving a few tape measure home runs to left and center field.
Rizzo watch 2.0
Making his World Baseball Classic debut, Anthony Rizzo hit third for Team Italy and delivered a game winning, two-run double in a 6-5 win over Team Mexico. With Italy down 5-4 in the top of the ninth, Rizzo drilled his second hit of the game off Giants' closer Sergio Romo to move Italy past Mexico in its first WBC game.
Rizzo said earlier this week he doesn't expect to be gone for long, nor does he expect the WBC to divert his attention or be a cause for concern.
“I don’t think it will be much of a distraction at all," he said. "As far as playing and getting injured, I’m not ever worried about that (from) a position-player standpoint."